photo: US Army on flickr

photo: US Army on flickr

Do you work out?

If so, how often?

Once a day? Once a week? Once a year?

I recently read a book that has permanently altered how I see the role of exercise in my life.

The book is called The Blue Zones and it chronicles the lives of people in five areas of the world – Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece.

The population in the five Blue Zones is significant because the people there routinely live into their nineties and beyond.

The book looks at the factors that contribute to longevity, one of which is exercise. (The others include eating moderately, avoiding meat and processed foods, having a sense of purpose, taking down time, and participating in a spiritual community.)

The people in the Blue Zones don’t approach exercise like Americans do, though.

(The American Blue Zone, Loma Linda California, has a high population of Seventh Day Adventists, a group whose healthy values run contrary to the rest of our nation.)

Most Americans will park their car as close as possible to the gym, and then go work out for an hour. Then they’ll go home and sit on the couch for a few more hours. This is after sitting in an office all day.

photo: Alex on flickr

photo: Alex on flickr

I have a friend from Europe who marvels at how Americans refuse to walk anywhere. We spiritual types even brag about how we got the perfect parking spot.

Perfect being defined as a spot that enables us to walk five steps to wherever we want to go.

People in the Blue Zones don’t approach exercise this way. Most of them don’t even “work out.” They simply have lives that keep them active. They garden. They do chores. They walk to the store. Regular, low-intensity activity is just a part of their lives.

They’re exercising without trying to exercise. They’re living their lives and staying healthy while doing so.

photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro on flickr

photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro on flickr

I was recently reminded of the Blue Zones when Melissa and I were unloading our gear for a Sunday morning gig.

Most of our Sunday morning gigs don’t involve unloading gear. We show up at a Center and there’s a piano and mics and a sound team to help us play our music.

But in this case we have a friend, Rev. Elizabeth Rowley, who’s starting a new center: Center for Spiritual Living Solano Bayside.

Since they’re a new center, they don’t yet have all the groovy stuff like sound equipment and mics. So we bring it with us when we do music there.

The other morning, we were doing exactly that. It was 8:30 a.m. and we were loading our gear into the Center. When I say “gear,” I mean speakers, speaker stands, mics, mic stands, a keyboard, a keyboard stand, a keyboard bench, music stands and a P.A.

We bring all this stuff with us because we love our friend and we’re supporting her new Center. We love playing there and we love participating in this new community.

photo: Elizabeth Rowley

photo: Elizabeth Rowley

That said, the other morning I was feeling sorry for myself. Why did I have to lug all this stuff? Poor, poor me. I was longing for the day when I didn’t have to schlep any gear anywhere. I wanted to “move beyond it.”

And then I remembered the people in the Blue Zones.

Here in America, we see any type of manual labor as “less than.” With a few exceptions, like elite athletes, people who work primarily with their hands and bodies are valued far less than people who work primarily with their minds.

But why? As the people in the Blue Zones have shown us, keeping active and using your body throughout the day is great for you.

Here I was, at 8:30 in the morning, in beautiful Benicia, California. I was using my body to carry in gear that would broadcast the music my wife and I were about to perform. Music that we were performing as an act of love for our friend. What was wrong with this picture?

Nothing. Only my attitude.

photo: Rob Boudon on flickr

photo: Rob Boudon on flickr

The minute I realized the error of my thinking, I shifted into gratitude. I was lucky to get to use my body in such a way. Not only was I participating in low-intensive activity, I was acting from a sense of purpose and contributing to a spiritual community.

A Blue Zones trifecta!

Yes, I still work out several days a week. But I do it because I love it. And I’m more aware of staying active throughout my entire day, not just the hour I’m working out.

Not that I always remember to be grateful when I’m doing yard work or cleaning toilets.

But knowing about the lives of the people in the Blue Zones has permanently altered my view of exercise and manual labor.

Indeed, I’m trying to come up with activities that will maximize my use of Blue Zone practices. Like taking a day-long hike with my spiritual community, followed by a leisurely dinner of non-processed, non-meat food items, all the while participating in deep yet playful discussions about the meaning of life.

Blue Zone nirvana, here I come!

photo: Delany Dean on flickr

photo: Delany Dean on flickr

What is your relationship to exercise and manual labor? Share your comments below!

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